Science and Technology News

Monday, July 2, 2012

I See The Light (Scanner)

(Copyright © 2005 Paramount Pictures)
The concept of new technology is something that always grabs my attention, but no more so than when real research suggests that my dramatic daydreams of science fiction technology might actually become a reality.

So when I heard that the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) was developing a real life scanning device, my first immediate thought was STAR TREK SCANNER!

And then I took a deep breath, reeled it in, and read more.  I mean, come on, that kind of technology is centuries away…right?

As it turns out, NRL’s scanning device isn’t that far removed from Star Trek’s fictitious future world or Doctor Who’s technoverse gadgetry.  Although, instead of being an impressively multipurpose-yet-unfortunately-fictitious sonic screwdriver, this real life device uses light to scan objects from far away.

The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed a Photothermal Infrared Imaging Spectroscopy (PT-IRIS) technology for stand-off detection of explosives, illicit drugs, chemical warfare agents and biochemical warfare agents. That’s right; technology that can scan for dangerous objects from a distance.  PT-IRIS has been demonstrated for standoff or proximity detection of explosives.

That, my friends, could be a huge help to our troops.

Being able to “scan” for dangerous items from a safe distance – especially when it comes to explosive materials – would be an unbelievable asset to the warfighter.  Service members would have the benefit of knowing what they’re up against long before they put themselves in the blast range.

And it’s all about seeing the light.  In this case literally.

This approach employs quantum cascade lasers (QCL) to illuminate a sample surface with one or more wavelengths which are selectively absorbed by analytes of interest. With eye-safe QCL power levels, this results in modest selective heating (1-2 oC) of particulate explosives within a few milliseconds, which can be readily monitored at video frame rates of commercial IR cameras.

Basically, the PT-IRIS absorbs the information and relays it back.  The idea of no longer wondering what’s on that suspicious van on the side of the road could literally mean life or death for service members.

Utilizing compact QCL light sources and an IR focal plane array to image the illuminated area, a portable, handheld system design can be realized. Don’t leave home without your explosive-detection device!  No, seriously, you don’t want to leave something like that just lying around.

As an eye safe system, PT-IRIS is ideal for probing surfaces of vehicles, places, people, packages, and boarding passes for explosives and other hazardous chemicals of interest.  This technology could be used everywhere, from police stations to airports, to suspicious parents who think their kids aren’t just “high on life” (okay, maybe not that one…).

That’s all well and good, but really I’m most interested in the idea that our men and women in uniform stand the chance of not being blown up as much. Science fiction hopes and dreams aside, if anything can make our service members safer and more effective, then I say hop to it.

This technology could give a whole new meaning to the phrase “Stand off, we got this”.

Licenses are available to companies with commercial interest.  Want more information on how to make this a reality?  Click here for the rundown, or check out the NRL licensing info on their website.

Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed With Science.  She is an Army veteran an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for technology in the military.

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